Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Finishing the Hat

Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat—titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George—Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a ra...

Details Finishing the Hat

TitleFinishing the Hat
Release DateOct 26th, 2010
GenreNonfiction, Plays, Theatre, Music, Autobiography, Memoir, Biography

Reviews Finishing the Hat

  • Bruce
    Look, I'm a music theater buff, and a Sondheim freak. So it was preordained that I would love this book. Actually, I was expecting to find it redundant, if not nostalgia-inducing, inasmuch as I have long owned and adored copies of his scores and libretti, and near-memorized recordings of every Sondheim show (save the unloveable mess that is Road Show, about which you can read my review elsewhere on Goodreads). However, I can confidently tell you ...
    Stephen Sondheim wrote all of FINISHING THE HAT, covering roughly the first half of his musical career (1954-81). He reprints the lyrics and offers side remarks as to what was going on at the times these shows were composed. This period embraces WEST SIDE STORY, for which he wrote the lyrics; also A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, words and music both; ditto that daring pair, COMPANY and FOLLIES ca. 1970. Also in this volume are A L...
  • Schmacko
    So much of what I could say in a review of Sondheim's lovely book of lyrics - Finishing the Hat - is touched upon by singer/songwriter Paul Simon in an article he wrote for The New York Times: will only add my own thoughts – which are wordy, because I love the man. When I was a freshman in my rural Iowa high school, I took vocal lessons with a local college instructor, Hollis Dobref, who later went on to...
  • Mary Ronan Drew
    There is nobody like Sondheim. Much as I love Cole Porter and the Rogers and Hart and Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, it's Sondheim who sings to me.This collection of lyrics to his musicals from West Side Story in 1957 to Merrily We Roll Along in 1981 is enlightening. Sondheim introduces each show, includes the lyrics to songs that were cut, and explains the dynamics between him and the producer, director, writer of the book, choreographer, and ...
  • Caitlin Hayes
    I poked away at this for years, dipping in and out before finally finishing this week. Sheer genius! Can't wait to crack Volume 2.
  • Anita
    When I first heard about this book, I wasn't too excited. For some reason I was under the impression that it was just a collection of the lyrics. Nice to have, but, really, not that necessary, since -- ahem -- I already know them all by heart. I dutifully ordered the book from the library, though -- this is Sondheim we're talking about, after all. When it came in and I took a closer look at it, I realized how wrong I'd been, and immediately sat d...
  • Kevin Fanning
    I mean, yeah, I don't know how else to rate this. It's on a totally different scale than a novel or whatever. If you are interested in musical theater in general and in Sondheim in particular then obviously this book is for you. But also if you are interested in learning more about how a writer who is EXTREMELY GOOD at what he does actually does what he does, you might want to look at this. There is tons of good writing advice packed in here, and...
  • Caroline
    What does it mean, to make art? Does the artist create and nurture his work, or does it feed on him, consuming his life until he is forever “finishing the hat”? Paging through Stephen Sondheim’s recent memoir/commentary/anthology, I couldn’t help wondering.In his book, Sondheim discusses the “principles” and “heresies” of lyric composition at the level of a technical master, analyzing himself and his (deceased) contemporaries with...
  • willaful
    I'm fascinated by people who love their work and take it seriously, so even if I wasn't a musicals fan I probably would've enjoyed this book. The subtitle describes it pretty well: this is a collection of Sondheim's lyrics from the first half of his career, along with his commentary about the process of writing the lyrics and creating the shows. He also gives uncensored opinions on other lyricists' work, which are saved from seeming brutal by the...
  • Grady
    A Bow for Mr. SondheimStephen Sondheim Will probably forever be regarded as the finest lyricist the musical stage has known - with apologies to librettist W. S. Gilbert or Gilbert and Sullivan fame. He has always taken on stories that encourage - no, force - the audience to relate to his ideas, whether that be in the early stages of his career with the magnum opus West Side Story or with the subsequent Gypsy!, Pacific Overtures, Follies, Sundays ...
  • Stuart
    I'm a lyricist so this is more than just a book for me. It's is an essential text. Right now, I have a library copy, but it's clear that I'm going to have to buy my own. It's all there, lyrics from 28 years worth of writing in one volume. No this isn't poetry as Sondheim makes clear. But if you want to know the essentials behind world-class lyric writing, careful reading of these lyrics will prove rewarding. I know almost all of the tidbits inclu...
  • Bettie☯
    To mark his 80th birthday year, musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim appraises his long career and dissects his own lyrics from West Side Story to Sweeney Todd. Blurb - In Finishing the Hat - a title borrowed from one of his most autobiographical songs Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, but has provided a forensic account of the lyric-writing process. As he discusses the lyrics for several of his major musicals from...
  • Gretchen
    More! More! More! When I heard about this book, I was prepared to like it. One of America's best writers, writing about his craft? Yes, please! What I found was a great blend between memoir, analysis and lesson, all focused on Sondheim's lyrics. I appreciated that he sets the groundrules up front, and follows them throughout. This isn't memoir as gossip. This is reflection on his experience in the creation of 13 musicals, with the benefit of time...
  • Stephanie Sun
    One of the rare gift books worth reading cover to cover. Just amazing that Mr. Sondheim was willing to share so much of his ginormous brain with anyone with $40 to spare.I read this before we got Spotify in the US and at a peak Luddite moment when I had no cable internet so it had me scouring YouTube on my smartphone for every good-quality performance clip of the shows and songs discussed in this book. (Yes, I watched an entire filmed stage perfo...
  • Michael McLean
    If you're a Sondheim fan read this book. If you're an American Musical Theatre historian you must read this book. If you like reading things that make you go, "Wow, that is one smart guy." read this book. If you love musical theatre but are indifferent toward Sondheim you still ought to read this book. Nobody alive today knows more about writing lyrics and music for Broadway. How it used to be, how it is, and how it might be one day.I look forwar...
  • Stuart
    One of the best books I have ever read on the subject of theater and the process of making theater- a must for anybody in the industry. Sondheim approaches his calling via the lyrics angle, but since good lyrics in musical theater are essentially storytelling, directors, composers, playwrights, actors and pretty much everyone else associated with the stage will get plenty out of this book- whether you agree with Stephen or not. Even when you don'...
  • David
    This book is a master class in musical theatre creation. Those who have read a lot on Mr. Sondheim's work will be relieved to know that there are new anecdotes (the requisite Hammerstein-tutorial sessions are mentioned, as are the famous Jerome Robbins stories, but most of the stories here are new). But more important than the stories are the craft being taught. One can't read this and ever look at or listen to a lyric again without a more critic...
  • Maddie
    Loved it! Such an insight into writing and Sondheim as a person!
  • Steven
    "...I think the explication of any craft, when articulated by an experienced practitioner, can be not only intriguing but also valuable..."Despite its ridiculous subtitle including "Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes," I somehow imagined that this would just be Sondheim noting why he wrote a line the way he did. Don't get me wrong--there is plenty of that, and I love it. However, Sondheim includes everything ...
  • Dara Salley
    I’m not a huge Stephen Sondheim fan. I’m only familiar with a few of his musicals and I only really like one (Sweeny Todd). I’m more of an Andrew Llyodd Webber/Bob Fosse fan. For a casual non-fan, like me, you might assume that a book of lyrics and notes would be boring. You would be wrong. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in musical theater or the art of language in general.I’ve never been able to “get” Stephen Sondhe...
  • Linda Crowder
    It was interesting to see the inner workings of how shows are put together and the comments about rhyming and how much work goes into making very fast-paced, wordy songs roll off the tongue for singers was well worth the read. However, I was a bit put off by his "reviews" of other writers since he really didn't seem to like any of them. It would have been nice if he'd picked at least some who he had at least a grudging respect for. I also didn't ...
  • Abby
    Love Sondheim and wanted to learn more about how his mind works. This book accomplishes that, plus has me singing some of my favorite songs with correct words! I've moved on to the second volume. Must admit that I largely skip the sections on musicals I have not seen -- it's more fun when you can sing along in your head....
  • Hal
    Pretty fascinating commentary on the entire production process. And it's nice to see the lyricist nerd shine through - my favorite story was about the "gasp of delight" from Cole Porter at the unanticipated quadruple rhyme.
  • John
    Hyperliterate, tangential, gossipy, and sincere - everything you'd want in a collection like this. If you know the author's voice, you can almost hear him narrating it. Reading the lyrics lacks some of the pop of listening to them, but that can't be helped.
  • Rachel
    If you're a Sonheim fan, it's a must read.
  • Ilyse
    The same as I wrote about I Made a Hat.
  • Brad Hodges
    I'm not a big Broadway musical guy, but even I can appreciate the genius of Stephen Sondheim, who is one of the great lyricists of the art form. His first volume of collected lyrics, which runs from 1954 to 1981, is subtitled "with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes," and it's those that make this book gripping reading.Reading lyrics is kind of hard, especially if you don't know the tune. It's easy to follow a...
  • Sammy
    In this remarkable volume, Stephen Sondheim collects the lyrics (used, unused and reused) from his first 10 Broadway productions ("West Side Story" to "Merrily We Roll Along") as well as his first professional production ("Saturday Night") and another piece ("The Frogs"). A second volume - 'Look, I Made A Hat' - will follow in late 2011 with all his post-1981 lyrics, as well as his earlier TV and film work, and (assumedly) various songs he wrote ...